We might only make up 1% of society but according to the British media, we trans people seem to pose a significant threat to society.
This current wave of transphobia was born of the Government’s announcement last year that it intends to reform the Gender Recognition Act (2004), making it easier for trans people to be officially recognised as their correct gender. This ability to self-declare without the need for a medical ‘diagnosis’ follows in the footsteps of countries such as Argentina (2013), Denmark (2014), Malta (2015), Norway (2015) and Ireland (2015). And it’s all pretty straightforward, really.
But all sorts of concerns have been raised. Pieces in the media argue that abusive men will pretend to be women in order to enter women only spaces; others suggest that the “powerful trans lobby” is “sacrificing” children; and some even complain that men will pretend to be women to get onto all-women’s shortlists for political parties.
If you don’t know much about trans issues, then these concerns might well seem plausible. Frightening, even. But they are groundless.
Why you can't rely on the news media to understand... trans issues
In countries such as Ireland, where trans people have little trouble changing their gender on their birth certificate, there have been no cases of abusive men using this to enter gendered spaces. In fact, we trans people have been using gendered facilities our whole lives without any trouble. Nor is anyone about to perform genital surgery on children. And men certainly don’t need to pretend to be women in order to be successful in politics.
Nonetheless, these transphobic narratives are being given significant air-time. And at the same time, paradoxically, a particularly vocal group of anti-trans voices are complaining that they are being silenced. These are often prominent figures who have a very public platform. Many are well-known feminist writers or columnists, such as Julie Bindel, Linda Bellos and Julia Long, who are also regular guests on national television.
The anti-trans group We Need to Talk UK has also toured the country with several of these allegedly silenced feminists to warn about the dangers of ‘transgenderism’ and has managed to raise nearly £30,000 in support of excluding trans women from all-women shortlists.
It even held an event at the House of Commons, hosted by the MP David Davies, during which Sheila Jeffreys referred to trans women as “parasites” and discussed about how women’s rights (and in particular the rights of lesbian women) were under siege. The irony of such a meeting being hosted by an MP who has historically voted against LGBT rights isn’t lost on me.
It doesn’t sound to me like they are being silenced at all. It sounds to me like the exact opposite: a few voices across the media are helping to perpetuate a moral panic around trans issues, something not dissimilar to the hysteria surrounding gay issues that we saw immediately before Section 28 was introduced in the UK.
The moral panic isn’t rooted in reality, but does have real consequences for trans people’s lives. Already nearly two in three trans people are bullied at school, one in ten has received death threats and nearly half of all trans kids have attempted suicide. Only a few weeks ago, a trans woman was murdered in Hounslow in the UK.
The way we are viewed by society, our very place in society, is directly affected by the way the media present the ‘trans debate’. Every time a discussion is framed to suggest trans women are men, legitimacy is given to people who don’t accept trans women as women. Every time one of those anti-trans activists is invited to debate with a trans person on national television, legitimacy is given to transphobia. Where is the balance in taking a vulnerable group of people and pitting them against people who deliberately misgender them, demonise them, mock them, and even incite violence against them? There is no balance in hate.
The media could make a serious difference to our lives by reporting trans stories accurately, and focusing on how we need support now more than ever, rather than giving voice to claims which have no basis in evidence. For we trans people pose no threat to anyone’s right or safety. We are people just like you, who want live lives free from stigma, harassment, and abuse. Is that really too much to ask?